August

august.jpg
Jessica Miglio/First Look Pictures
Austin Chick/United States 2008

August features a great Josh Hartnett performance, intriguing period detail and talk – lots and lots of talk. The talking pertains in some form or fashion to the collapse of a dot-com business venture called Landshark, run by brothers Tom (Hartnett) and Joshua (Adam Scott). Screenwriter Howard A. Rodman and director Austin Chick include a lot of ruminating on IPOs, revenue streams and the vagaries of the stock market. For good measure, they’ve set the picture in August 2001, during the last vestiges of the Clinton-era economic boom that facilitated the dot-com phenomenon.

This makes for a believable evocation of a period of time so far removed from our current reality that it seems as firmly entrenched in the history books as any. It also presents Hartnett with a rare opportunity to carry a movie and really show off his acting chops. The actor delights in his character’s fast-talking, slick personality and his penchant for witticisms. With his trendy sport jacket over T-shirt attire, large Manhattan loft and inflated ego Tom serves as a poster boy for the era. Hartnett skillfully projects the cool, confident visage and the simultaneously panicked interior so essential to a character becoming increasingly more aware that his time at the top of the world has reached its end.

He deserves no end of credit for generating any sort of dramatic interest in the character because Rodman’s screenplay forces so much incomprehensible stock market jargon on him that Tom sometimes seems like a walking business page article. Though Joshua spends most of the film livid with Tom, and it’s clear that their business venture has become a disaster, there is almost no palpable dramatic conflict. Rather, the overwrought dialogue envelops such a thick morass around the production that it is hard to determine: A, what the characters actually do for a living; B, why Joshua hates Tom; and C, the precise significance of the various bumps in the road as the life of the company and the plot of the movie wind towards an obvious conclusion.

The filmmakers should have taken a cue from Wall Street – an obvious influence – and spun some sort of larger moral tale out of the narrative. At the very least, they could have said something meaningful about the technology sector during the long lost days of August 2001 and made a more concerted effort to engage the story with that naively idyllic milieu. Instead, all they have managed is a quasi docudrama that traces the ordinary steps towards the collapse of a company and the accompanying disintegration of an individual’s garish lifestyle. It can’t be coincidental that one of the best scenes in the movie features Rip Torn as Tom’s father, questioning what exactly his son spends his workdays doing. Maybe I’m just too dense, but he certainly seemed to be speaking for me.

© 2008 Robert Levin. All rights reserved.

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